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CHAPTER IX

THE first fields were cut. Men moved slowly, stoopingly,
across the wide fields. They bent between the heavy plants,
and lifted the heavy blade of the cutting knife and slashed
off the stalk at the base, to leave the stob protruding from the
hill. In the open places, where the tobacco had been cut, the
wagons waited, and the mules drooped their long, bony,
spatulate, patient heads.

The fall sharpened early. The first curing fires in the
loaded barns had been lighted, and the blue smoke began
to settle out like haze over the bare fields in the late, level
light. Everywhere there was the thin and pervasive odour of
burning, which, mingled with the other, more natural odours
of the season, the dry, pungent, leathery odours of earth and
withering vegetation, fed the sense of recession and finality.
In the afternoons great flocks of grackles, gathering in their
autumnal multitudes, would wheel over the fields. When
they flew low enough, their burnished blackness would glisten
in the light, and the air would be full of the vigorous whisper
of their wing-beats. When they settled in the trees along a
lane, or in die woods bordering the fields, or in the groves
about the houses, their cries would be incessant.

Mr. Munn, ever since he had grown up, would see the great
flocks of grackles, on bright days in the fall, sweeping across
the blue sky, from horizon to horizon, or fountaining up-
ward and outward from a tree or a grove where they had
been disturbed, or splaying from the air wantonly over the
wide expanse of a field, like bright, black seeds flung from a
sower's liberal hand; and almost always, if the press of his
immediate occupation was not too strong, he would let his
gaze follow their flight. He would observe the sweep of the
flock on the sky, the swaying but sure convolutions of the
wide-flung mass like the curved and reaching and seltfalifr
stog                                         14